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Climate Change

Published on October 22nd, 2012 | by Stephen Lacey


You Can’t Ignore Climate Change in a Presidential Foreign Policy Debate

October 22nd, 2012 by  

This article has been reposted with full permission from Think Progress.

Barack Obama and Mitt Romney face each other for the final presidential debate tonight. The conversation will focus exclusively on foreign policy — potentially opening up numerous opportunities to talk about climate and energy issues.

If the last two debates are any guide, the candidates and moderator may ignore the issue of climate altogether. But as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton rightly pointed out in a speech last week, clean energy and climate policy will continue to be deeply important to U.S. foreign affairs, and the next president will play a strong role in “shaping the global energy future.”

Indeed, almost every major international issue — energy access, international trade, food prices, technology sharing, military operations — have a deeply embedded climate component.

There are a number of different angles that could be explored in tonight’s conversation. In a preview of the final debate, Brad Plumer of the Washington Post points out the national security implications of a changing climate:

There have been a whole slew of reports in recent years about how global warming could pose a security threat to the United States. The Pentagon even highlighted climate change in its 2010 defense review. There’s the possibility that droughts, floods and water shortages could destabilize key regions, for one. These things aren’t certain—here’s a more skeptical take on the prospect of “global warring” that I wrote a few years ago—but they’re on the minds of plenty of foreign-policy analysts.

Of course, the impact of global warming is, after all, a global issue. After the first debate, Andrew Revkin of the New York Times explained why he thought the final debate was the best place for a discussion around climate, “Global warming, both in its most significant drivers and consequences, remains a global issue.”

Michael Levi of the Council on Foreign Relations touched upon this same issue in a post today. He makes a very important point about why climate change why isn’t just a single issue that can be separated from others:

Climate change is a really big global problem. You don’t need to be convinced of impending doom to believe this – you just need to accept that we’re running some pretty large risks. When the moderator of the last debate half-apologized to “the climate people” for not touching on the subject,  she revealed something important: too many people think about climate change as a special interest issue. It isn’t, and the candidates’ approaches deserve to be debated. This one is simple to tee off: just ask each candidate what he’d do.


Indeed, climate is becoming less of a boutique international policy issue. Even though UN climate negotiations have failed to build a global agreement to reduce greenhouse gas emissions, they have made climate and clean energy deployment a more integrated piece of geopolitics.

Take the recent aviation dispute over the European emissions trading system. When the Europeans decided to penalize international airlines flying into the region for their carbon emissions, it set off a political firestorm within China and the U.S. that many feared would turn into an all-out retaliatory trade war.

“This has demonstrated that climate diplomacy is no longer confined to a discrete set of negotiations,” says Andrew Light, an international climate expert at the Center for American Progress. “We will increasingly see examples like this where one country’s energy and climate policies influence others. It’s important that we know how Obama and Romney might differ on dealing with this issue and others like it.”

Light argues that climate change is becoming intertwined with almost every issue on the international stage.

From the industrial boom in the melting Arctic, to extreme weather raising food prices, to international trade disputes over clean energy, America’s relationship with the world will increasingly be driven by climate-related issues.

It’s difficult to be a credible international player without doing your fair share on emissions reductions and clean technology development. If a Romney Administration came in and said we’re not going to deal with anything climate related, it would be impossible to have a functioning diplomacy,” says Light.

That is why climate change must be discussed tonight. Over the coming decade, as the planet continues to warm and countries get more serious about mitigation and adaptation, it is likely that climate will be the central driver of foreign policy discussions. Ignoring it during this election debate series — potentially the first time the issue is avoided since the mid 1980′s — would be a gross oversight.

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About the Author

is an editor at Greentech Media. Formerly, he was a reporter/blogger for Climate Progress, where he wrote about clean energy policy, technologies, and finance. Before joining CP, he was an editor/producer with RenewableEnergyWorld.com. He received his B.A. in journalism from Franklin Pierce University.

  • Bob_Wallace

    Six official investigations have cleared scientists of accusations of wrongdoing.

    – A three-part Penn State University cleared scientist Michael Mann of wrongdoing.

    – Two reviews commissioned by the University of East Anglia”supported the honesty and integrity of scientists in the Climatic Research Unit.” –
    – A UK Parliament report concluded
    that the emails have no bearing on our understanding of climate science and that claims against UEA scientists are misleading.

    – The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration Inspector General’s office concluded there
    was no evidence of wrongdoing on behalf of their employees.

    – The National Science Foundation’s Inspector General’s office concluded,
    “Lacking any direct evidence of research misconduct…we are closing this investigation with no further action.”

    Other agencies and media outlets have investigated the substance of the emails.

    – The Environmental Protection Agency, in response to petitions against action to curb heat-trapping emissions, dismissed attacks on the science rooted in the stolen emails

    – Factcheck.org debunked claims that
    the emails put the conclusions of climate science into question.

    – Politifact.com rated claims that
    the emails falsify climate science as “false.”

    – An Associated Press review of the emails found
    that they “don’t undercut the vast body of evidence showing the world is warming because of man-made greenhouse gas emissions.”

    Some news organizations have misreported critical aspects of the stolen email story. There is no evidence scientists did anything with temperature data they weren’t already doing openly in peer-reviewed papers.

    At this time, there is no evidence that scientists “fudged,” “manipulated” or “manufactured” data. These unsupported claims, based on taking the emails out of context, are being promoted by long-time anti-science opponents of climate change legislation. The U.N. Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC), the University of East Anglia and Penn State University are separately looking into the contents of the stolen emails to assess these claims.

    While the emails have raised some concerns, the email content being quoted does not indicate that climate data and research have been compromised. Most importantly, nothing in the content of these stolen emails has any impact on our overall understanding that human activities are driving dangerous levels of global warming. Media reports and contrarian claims that they do are inaccurate.

    University of East Anglia Climatic Research Unit Director Phil Jones wasn’t “hiding” anything that wasn’t already being openly discussed in scientific papers. He was using a “trick”—a technique—published in the peer-reviewed scientific literature.

    This email exchange from 1999 seems to refer to scientists examining past climate data and communicating with one another about it. In particular, Jones is talking about how scientists compare temperature data from thermometers with temperature data derived from tree rings. Comparing that data allows scientists to derive past temperature data for several centuries before accurate thermometer measurements were available. The global average surface temperature since 1880 is based on thermometer and satellite temperature measurements.

    The “trick” is actually a technique (in other words, a “trick of the trade”) used in a peer-reviewed, academic science journal article published
    in 1998. “Hiding the decline,” another phrase that has received much attention, refers to another technique used in another academic science journal article. In any case, no one was tricking anyone or hiding anything. Rather, this email exchange shows scientists communicating about different ways to look at the same data that were being discussed at the time in the peer-reviewed literature. Later the same data were discussed at length in a 2007 IPCC report.

    In some parts of the world, tree rings are a good substitute for temperature record. Trees form a ring of new growth every growing season. Generally, warmer temperatures produce thicker tree rings, while colder temperatures produce thinner ones. Other factors, such as precipitation, soil properties, and the tree’s age also can affect tree ring growth.

    The “trick,” which was used in a paper published in 1998 in the science journal Nature, is to combine the older tree ring data with thermometer data. Combining the two data sets can be difficult, and scientists are always interested in new ways to make temperature records more accurate.
    Tree rings are a largely consistent source of data for the past 2,000 years. But since the 1960s, scientists have noticed there are a handful of tree species in certain areas that appear to indicate temperatures that are warmer or colder than we actually know they are from direct thermometer measurement at weather stations.

    “Hiding the decline” in this email refers to omitting data from some Siberian trees after 1960. This omission was openly discussed in the latest climate science update in 2007 from the IPCC, so it is not “hidden” at all.
    Why Siberian trees? In the Yamal region of Siberia, there is a small set of trees with rings that are thinner than expected after 1960 when compared with actual thermometer measurements there. Scientists are still trying to figure out why these trees are outliers. Some analyses have left out the data from these trees after 1960 and have used thermometer temperatures instead.

    Techniques like this help scientists reconstruct past climate temperature records based on the best available data.

    In another email, Kevin Trenberth, a climate scientist at the National Center for Atmospheric Research in Colorado, wrote that systems for observing short-term annual climate variation are inadequate and complained: “The fact is that we can’t account for the lack of warming at the moment, and it is a travesty that we can’t…. Our observing system is inadequate.”

    Scientists have high confidence about global temperature trends over recent decades because those observations are based on a massive amount of data. That’s why we can say with certainty that over the past several decades, the Earth has warmed. We can also say with certainty that continuing to overload the atmosphere with carbon dioxide will cause it to warm further.
    But scientists are still trying to understand how the climate shifts in the short term, on a year-to-year basis for instance. In this email, Trenberth is bemoaning the lack of monitoring equipment in the ocean and atmosphere around the world that would give scientists more information to help understand exactly how short-term climate variation happens. In particular, he references 2008, which was cooler than scientists expected, but still among the 10 warmest years since instrumental records began.

    The sentiments in Trenberth’s private email reflect his public communication. Trenberth talked about this same issue in a scientific paper in 2009 (pdf),
    in which he addresses this exact question.

    There is no clear evidence to date that scientists violated important principles of scientific integrity. And the emails do not undermine the science.

    Some emails relating to avoiding freedom of information requests and keeping articles out of journals have raised concerns about scientific integrity. Scientists should always be as open as possible with their data and methods. Transparency is critical for accountability on all sides. For his part, Phil Jones claims he didn’t delete any email messages in response to freedom of information requests. If he did, that conduct would be wrong. But to date, there is no evidence that any emails were deleted.

    Science must be viewed in context. When one places the emails in context, they don’t amount to much—and as noted above, they do not undermine climate data or research. Likewise, it is important to understand the scientific integrity claims against the scientists in context.

    Regardless of whether the University of East Anglia’s Climatic Research Unit staff complied with freedom of information requests, their data is still rigorous and matches the three other independent temperature data sets at NASA, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and the Japanese Meteorological Society.

    Much has been made about emails regarding a certain paper that some scientists did not think should have been published in a peer-reviewed academic journal. These emails focus on a paper on solar variability in the climate over time. It was published in a peer-reviewed journal called *Climate Research*, but under unusual circumstances. Half of the editorial board of*Climate
    Research* resigned in protest against what they felt was a failure of the peer review process. The paper, which argued that current warming was unexceptional, was disputed by scientists whose work was cited in the paper. Many subsequent publications set the record straight, which demonstrates how the peer review process over time tends to correct such lapses. Scientists later discovered that the paper was funded by the American Petroleum Institute.

    In a later e-mail, Phil Jones references two other papers he
    didn’t hold in high esteem. “I can’t see either of these papers being in the next IPCC report. Kevin and I will keep them out somehow – even if we have to redefine what the peer-review literature is!”

    Yet, the papers in question made it into the IPCC report, indicating that no restrictions on their incorporation were made. The IPCC process contains hundreds of authors and reviewers, with an exacting and transparent review process.

    The fact that groups opposing action on climate change are crying “conspiracy” shows how desperate they are to discredit scientists.

    The thousands of stolen emails span more than a decade. Whoever stole them could only produce a handful of messages that, when taken out of context, might seem suspicious to people who are not familiar with the intimate details of climate science.

    Opponents of climate action have been attacking climate science for years. The fact that out-of-context personal attacks on scientists are the most successful argument they can offer speaks volumes about their failure to gain any traction by arguing against the evidence.

    Their strategy has unfortunate consequences, too. On December 8, the Guardian reported that University of East Anglia scientists have been receiving death threats .

    The timing of the publication of these emails should make us suspicious about the motivations of the people who hacked them.

    The stolen emails were published just two weeks ahead of a major U.N. climate change conference in Copenhagen. According to a British newspaper, they were originally hacked in October. Whoever published these emails likely wanted to spread misinformation about climate science to try to undermine the conference. The University of East Anglia, which housed the emails, has launched an investigation to determine who stole them.

    Scientists are as human as anybody else.

    Some of the other emails simply show scientists expressing frustration and—in one email—even talking (not seriously, we hope) about beating up someone who had, in his view, made an unfair, public attack
    on his colleague. Such chatter is not surprising to find in private emails. But they have generated widespread attention in part because they don’t mesh with the public’s image of scientists.

    Scientists have a wide array of dispositions. But regardless of how scientists act, they should all advance their arguments through evidence and valid scientific interpretations. The process of science is what is important. Over time, rigorous analyses, vetted through expert peer review, tend to weed out poorly substantiated arguments. And only the best explanations for how the world works—such as the obvious evidence that excess carbon dioxide emissions are driving global warming—survive the process.


    • joe

      Here is a working link (I hope) to the PSU doc.


      Please note that the big charge against Mann, that he colluded with peers to suppress research he did not agree with was not addressed decisively.

      I quote,”Finding 4. After careful consideration of all the evidence and relevant materials, the inquiry committee could not make a definitive finding whether there exists any evidence to substantiate that Dr. Mann did engage in, or participate in, directly or indirectly, any actions that deviated from accepted practices within the academic community”.

      That is hardly exoneration. My personal opinion is that he was saved by the fact that the research he was trying to suppress was in fact published, although I concede I have no proof.

      Secondly note, that while he was not found guilty of destroying emails and evidence the document alleges he was urged to “delete, conceal or otherwise destroy emails, information and/or data, related to AR4, as suggested by Phil Jones”. So clearly the PSU investigators felt that Prof. Jones’ advice was dodgy. Jones is head of the CRU. He probably should not orchestrate cover ups.

      Now remember the context here, they were trying to keep their raw data secret. What kind of research keeps the data secret? I must have missed that the last time I reviewed the scientific method.

      One last thing, regarding the trick, none of the professors on the investigation was a statistics expert.

      Please note that the ‘trick’ used here erases the well documented midevil warm period.


      On the tree ring study. The outliers were cast out after the sample was decided. This is a huge no-no in statistics. When the outlier were originally included, the hypothesis was disproved.

      Lastly, I would be careful pasting that much of another article. The copy right trolls might come after you. I would hate to see a good moderator dismissed, even if I do disagree with him.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Joe – I really have no respect for your personal opinion.

        • joe

          So now it is insults. Perhaps you could address the issue instead.

          * For ten years the temperature of the earth has been no global warming.

          * Not one climate model predicted this pause.

          * Global Warming has been renamed Climate Change.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Joe, I think we’ve enjoyed enough of your stupid statements.

            I’m going to free you up to go play in the shallow end of the intellectual pool….

          • Bob_Wallace

            Oh, I forgot to let you know that your first “fact” is, in fact, not a fact.

            “No, it hasn’t been cooling since 1998. Even if we ignore long term trends and just look at the record-breakers, that wasn’t the hottest year ever. Different reports show that, overall, 2005 was hotter than 1998. What’s more, globally, the hottest 12-month period ever recorded was from June 2009 to May 2010.

            Though humans love record-breakers, they don’t, on their own, tell us a much about trends — and it’s trends that matter when monitoring Climate Change. Trends only appear by looking at all the data, globally, and taking into account other variables — like the effects of the El Nino ocean current or sunspot activity — not by cherry-picking single points.

            There’s also a tendency for some people just to concentrate on air temperatures when there are other, more useful, indicators that can perhaps give us a better idea how rapidly the world is warming. Oceans for instance — due to their immense size and heat storing capability (called ‘thermal mass’) — tend to give a much more ‘steady’ indication of the warming that is happening. Here records show that the Earth has been warming at a steady rate before and since 1998 and there’s no signs of it slowing any time soon.”


            You can take the rest of the talking points you got from Watts or whomever and check them out here…


            And climate change was in use prior to “global warming”. The overall warming of the planet is only part of the problem. We’re experiencing a changing climate that we have created, along with generally warming is coming longer cold spells, heavier rains and snowfalls, droughts, and rising seas.

            Educate yourself Joe. A mind is a terrible thing to waste….

  • Guest

    Joe, you need to get out more man 🙂 Calling climate change a “hypothesis” is like calling a spherical earth a “hypothesis” – mind you, just several hundred years ago. There is a difference between fact based science and wishful thinking and fantacies. Todays problem: the fantacies rule!

    • joe

      I do get out. I used to believe in AGW. However there is lots of evidence that the Media does not cover.
      Did you know that during the 80s and 90s astronomers recorded increased temperatures on both Venus and Mars?
      Did you know that 1000 years ago that the Newfoundland colony founded by Leif Ericson grew grapes, and that it is still to cold to grow grapes now?
      Did you know that the famous tree ring study showing a steady increase in AGW use ‘a trick to hide the decline’ known as the little ice age? Bing Climategate, it will open your eyes if you have an open mind.

      • Bob_Wallace

        Joe, do you know that the temperatures on other planets mean nothing in regard to the temperature on Earth unless all planets are warming and unless we can measure stronger output from the Sun?

        Neither of those have happened. Here’s the science…
        There was a period of warming about 1,000 years ago which is referred to as the Medieval Warming Period, but as best can be determined it was a regional warming and not experienced globally.

        There are grapes growing in Newfoundland right now. Well, not right now as winter has set in, but people are currently growing grapes in Newfoundland.

        Climategate has been examined by multiple very high level organizations and found to be absolute bunk. A few phrases from the stolen emails were taken out of context and used to make claims which simply weren’t true.

        Someone has badly mislead you.

        • joe

          Gee Bob, I read your proof there. Sadly, grapes still will not grow at the latitude where the colony was without a green house.

          North American wild grapes are not the same plant.

          You have goooot to be kidding! We have been measuring the output of the sun for centuries.

          Ever hear of SOHO?
          here is a more accurate graph.

          You should read the emails yourself Bob. Then make up your own mind.

          Lastly, I think we can agree that the increase in carbon in the atmosphere is between 150 and 200 parts per million. That is a 0.02% change in the mix of the air we breath. doesn’t that seem a little, ah, small? We know of volcanos that have done half of that in one year.

          • Bob_Wallace

            Joe, I really don’t have any desire to argue with someone who is intentionally ignorant.

            Have a nice day,

      • Bob_Wallace

        Joe, there are multiple reports of wild grapes growing in Newfoundland until sometime in the mid 1800s when an unusually cold spell killed the vines which never regrew.

        Temperatures would have allowed wild grapes to grow, but nothing replanted them.

        The grapes growing in Newfoundland today are domestic wine grapes.

  • Jack

    Obama will address climate change directly when reelected. Right now, thanks to Fox and other right wing propaganda ,there is no net vote advantage in addressing it. One only has to imagine what the Republicans would do if in control to find a powerful reason to help Obama get reelected.

    • agreed. reposting a comment i just posted on another site:

      imho: the right has pushed the debate of the table more than anyone. the far right have succeeded in pushing the political circus more to the right than it already was. the far left has had almost no influence on the circus (again, imho). the center left knows the majority of us are sensible enough people to vote for them rather than let oil- and bank-funded millionaires run the show.

      how do we turn it around? that’s the hard question. i think visibility is key, getting out in the streets. otherwise, it’s simply far too easy to ignore us.

      also, local & state elections. start running in and winning elections at the level where it might be possible. build up from there.

      and, of course, keep educating the masses the best we can on the fact that we’re running full speed towards a very big cliff. and not only will turning around saving us from the fall, it will also lead us back to town, where the jobs & fun are.

  • joe

    They did not talk about the Easter Bunny, Santa Clause, or Big Foot either. I am so disappointed.

    • Anne

      That scary science with ‘facts’ and ‘evidence’. Stay safely in your cocoon I’d say.

      • joe

        Ten years with no warming, and you talk about evidence. Silly girl 🙂

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